Out in the woods: March 2014

Rather belated, I hope you all had a good Christmas and wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014.  I know the weather over the holiday period was pretty atrocious but now the delightful, small yellow Aconites are out in my garden, always the first flowers to appear and a great reminder that we can start to look forward to Spring.

Having been away for a few weeks over Christmas/New Year it was, as always, a great joy for me to be back in our treasured woodland, even if it was almost knee deep in mud and definitely welly boot walking! Each season of the year brings its own pleasure, even when it is rather bleak and cold there is a certain charm about the shapes and shadows the low Winter sun creates, but I have to confess that I am a bit more selective these days and tend not to walk in heavy downpours of rain.

You will have gathered that I have missed my regular walks in Sherrardspark Wood, so I am very pleased to tell you that Wood Warden Dee has put together an excellent programme of Guided Walks for 2014, all of which I hope to be able to attend. It is most pleasing that she has been able to incorporate several ‘new’ walks alongside our popular annual ones.

We start off very soon with “Animal Tracks and Signs” led by Consultant Wildlife Biologist Keith Seaman on Sunday, 16th March.  Over the years Keith has had a very close association with Sherrardspark Wood and its occupants, so I know this is going to be a fascinating insight in identifying who and where they live.

“Before Sherrardspark Wood – The Rocks beneath the Trees” on Sunday 6th April with Wood Warden Nikki Edwards. This is definitely a first and one not to be missed; I for one can’t wait to find out more about a different aspect of the history of our wood.

Spring will definitely have arrived when we move on to our annual family favourite with Neale Holmes-Smith taking us on a tour of “Cowslips and Bluebells” on 26th April.

Next up is another of our annual events with Wood Wardens Gary and Peter taking us on a “Discovery Tour of the Wood” on 4th May. This is always a very popular walk, particularly for those of you who may be newcomers to the area or, perhaps, want to learn more about the history and layout of Sherrardspark Wood.

On 11th May we have Botanist Dr. Agneta Burton investigating “Common Woodland & Heathland Mosses”. This was a first last year and I have to admit that it was a subject that I knew nothing about but found absolutely fascinating. So do come along and see what you think?

Mary Barton, Medicinal Herbalist and Health Coach, will be with us on 1st June “Foraging in the Wood for Food and Medicine”. It is several years since Mary last joined our programme and I am delighted to see that she is back again with all her experience and knowledge of the medicinal benefits that nature can offer us.

The full Guided Walks Programme for the year is printed here, but I will of course be giving you more detail on the remaining walks next time.

It being a fairly quiet time of year in the wood, and having been away for nearly five weeks, I thought it might be interesting to look back in my WHT Magazine archives to see what was going on in Sherrardspark Wood at this time of year in times gone by. March 2001 is as far as I can go back with an article written by my late husband, Alastair. He started writing for the magazine in late 2000 which was the year, I believe, the magazine was first printed.

He started off his article by referring to the fact that Sherrardspark Wood was closed in an effort to control the then current foot and mouth crisis from spreading.  How quickly time passes, I would not have thought it was as long as thirteen years ago! Of course this meant that there was not a lot to write about Wood Warden Activities so he concentrated on the bird life in the wood.   Here is a list from that 2000 article although I do not know if it is still correct today; I am sure wood warden Ken, who knows about all our woodland birds, will be able to amend as necessary since I am sure he  helped Alastair to compile the list in the first place.  

Wren, Green woodpecker, Mistle thrush,Little owl, Mandarin duck, Marsh tit, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Cuckoo, Crow, Nuthatch, Blackbird, Barn owl, Great tit, Willow warbler, Chaffinch, Sparrow, Pheasant, Great/Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Blackcap, Sparrowhawk, Blue tit, Garden Warbler, Magpie, Hawfinch, Wood pigeon, Song Thrush, Tawny owl, Goldcrest, Lond-tailed tit, Wood Warbler,Robin, Fieldfare, Jay

It is not possible for me to reproduce the whole article, but you may find the following extracts interesting.

“.........The Fieldfare and Hawfinch particularly visit in winter for the berries, but most of the other birds do nest in our wood.....

“Did you know that we are fortunate enough to have one of the highest-known concentrations of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker in this country?.................

Have you heard a persistent mocking laugh whilst walking in the woods? For those of you unaware, this is the sound of the Green Woodpecker, the largest Woodpecker in Britain and a surprisingly shy bird considering the noise it makes all around the wood. Again, we have a number of nesting pairs but, unlike the Greater Spotted, their main diet throughout the year is ants and their eggs; they have long sticky tongues with which they can penetrate ant galleries by up to four inches (10 cm). You can often see them feeding on open grass areas.........

I haven’t managed a good photograph of this shy bird but hope my hand-painted picture will give you some idea of their appearance.

“The Nuthatch is another interesting little bird. It feeds going down the tree, as opposed to the Treecreeper which goes up. It often uses old woodpecker holes for nesting by blocking the hole with mud and creating a much smaller entry.”

He goes on to mention that following the coppicing in Rectory Lane area, creating a lighter and more open environment, a beautiful little Firecrest was spotted, apparently quite rare with only a few thousand in the country. I wonder if they are still to be found there?

Delving through my photograph archives, looking for past pictures of the wood at this time of year, those of you who read Peter Oakenfull’s article in last month’s WHT Magazine may be interested in a photograph taken in February 2009, which shows the same large swallow hole filled with water and covered in ice.  Those of you who know the area well will be able to compare the trees he refers to, although it is more difficult to spot the D-shaped hole covered in snow.  The other snowy picture was taken in March last year ! Rain seems to have taken over this year but you never know?

Well, it’s time to come back to 2014, so I give you Gary’s telephone number, 01707 375216, if you would like to join our team of Wood Wardens or just find out a bit more about the environmental work they carry out in Sherrardspark Wood. Our new website address is:


Marian Dawson
Wood Warden


[This article was first published in Welwyn Hatfield Magazine, March 2014.]







After the thaw - February 2009

The woods in the snow from March 2013

Nuthatch and Green woodpecker by Alastair Dawson